The Cost of a Lawyer: Understanding Contingency Fees

Doug Mann

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Table of Contents
  1. Why hire an attorney?
  2. How do contingent fees work?
  3. How do I set up a contingency fee?
  4. How do I win my case?

When you’re hurt by someone else’s careless or dangerous behavior, you’re often legally entitled to compensation. In other words, they or their insurance may be legally required to pay for your medical costs, the wages you lost because you were out of work, and other expenses. In some cases, they may be required to compensate you for your suffering or other damages. If you’re injured by a defective product or dangerous drug, the company that produced the product or drug may even have to pay punitive damages to you. “Punitive damages” are large sums awarded by the court to the injured party as a punishment to the maker of a dangerous product.

So, how do you go about getting compensated for your injuries? Most of the time, you will need an attorney.

Below, we’ll discuss what you can expect in terms of attorney fees or contingency fees when filing a case in Ohio.

Why hire an attorney?

Of course, when you’re hurt or sick and struggling to make ends meet, the last thing you want to think about is hiring an attorney. They’re expensive, right? You don’t want to have to pay a huge legal bill on top of all your other expenses. Who can afford to hire an attorney?

The answer is: anyone can. For personal injury and certain other types of cases, attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. That means you can afford experienced help on your side.

Attorneys started to use contingent fee payments because they recognized that most people don’t have the resources to hire an attorney upfront, especially if they’re hurt and out of work. However, ordinary people who are hurt and out of work need the help of attorneys the most. A contingent fee lets you get the excellent representation you need to get the compensation you deserve, without putting a huge hole in your wallet.

How do contingent fees work?

A “contingent fee” is a fee that only gets paid if you win. In other words, your attorneys will handle your whole case for free. If you win a monetary award, they’ll take a percentage of it at the very end. That means you never have to pay a penny out of pocket. No costly retainer fees, no expensive hourly billing. In a contingent fee arrangement, the attorneys only get paid if you do. If your case doesn’t result in a payout, they get nothing.

Note that you may be required to pay court costs and filing fees; you just won’t have to pay for the attorney’s work. You may also have to pay certain fees for expert services. For example, you may have to pay a fee for an accident reconstruction specialist. You’ll only have to pay for those expenses at the end of the case, if you win. In a contingent fee arrangement, your attorney will not stick you with a bill for costs in an unsuccessful lawsuit — he or she will pay them.

Additionally, both Ohio state law and the Ohio Bar’s code of ethics for attorneys have rules regarding the use of contingent fee arrangements. State law requires that any contingent fee agreement be set down in writing and signed by both the attorney and the client. The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct further note that that written agreement must also clearly state whether the client will be liable for any of the expenses associated with filing a particular lawsuit, such as court and filing fees. Fees must be reasonable, considering the difficulty of the case, the time it will take to handle it, and other factors. Also, the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct bar contingent fee arrangements in both criminal and domestic relations cases.

How do I set up a contingency fee?

A contingent fee arrangement, or any fee arrangement at all, is just like any other contract. You need to be sure you understand what you’re signing up for. Make sure you’ve discussed the terms regarding the ultimate contingent fee. What percentage is your attorney charging? Is that similar to what other attorneys in the area charge for similar cases? A little research can save you a lot of cash. You’ll also want to address the issue of expenses. Is your attorney going to pay for court costs, filing fees, expert services, and other expenses upfront, or will you have to find the cash?

While contingent fees make legal services available to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford such help, they’re not perfect. A contingent fee can be an inaccurate form of payment. If your case settles quickly and the attorney doesn’t have to do much work, you may feel like the contingent fee is too high. If your case takes a long time and a lot of work, your attorney may actually be losing money by handling your case. It’s important to be aware of those issues. It’s also important to be aware that contingent fees are fair in the majority of cases; few cases are so quick and easy that you end up overpaying.

How do I win my case?

More than anything, you want to make sure your attorney is good at her job. Insurance companies and manufacturers of the products and drugs we use every day are huge corporations. They have entire teams of attorneys dedicated exclusively to ensuring that they pay as little compensation to injured parties as possible. They’ll also pressure you to accept early settlements for less than you really deserve. It can be hard to say no to that kind of offer, but your attorney knows what your case is worth and can help you negotiate a fair settlement.

To make it even harder, the legal rules for how a case can proceed are complicated and confusing — there’s a reason law school takes 3 years to complete on top of college. Without an attorney, it’s effectively impossible for you to recover any sort of compensation. An attorney will take some of your award as payment, but that’s much better than getting no award at all. On a contingent fee basis, you get a trained attorney to handle the ins and outs of your case and you don’t have to pay any cash out of pocket.

If you’ve been injured, contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation. Our practice areas also include medical malpracticeworkers’ compensation cases, and more. We’ll go over your case with you to help you determine how best to pursue your claim for compensation.

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